Good News, Bad News, and More Good News

The good news is that the holiday season is upon us.
The bad news is that the holiday season is upon us.

Holiday Blues: Mom isn’t quite what she used to be.

Holidays can be fun, joyous occasions, with family members gathering from near and far. Sometimes, the holidays are the only time of year we get to see family members who travel long distances to join in a family holiday celebration. Holiday Blues:  Mom isn’t quite what she used to be.

While family reunions give us the opportunity to catch up, share memories and make new ones, they can also be stressful. One cause of stress may be that family members are seeing an aging loved one for the first time in months. Shock and dismay may set in when they come face to face with changes in a parent’s (or other loved one’s) physical or mental condition.

It is clear to everyone that something needs to be done.  But what?

Start a family conversation

Often the best place to start is with a family conversation, and what better time than now that the family is gathered. Gathering and sharing information is key. The family needs to discover and understand the parent’s situation, identify available resources and, if the elder is able to participate in that discussion, find out what the elder wants and needs. Once the situation is clarified, the family can start to explore options to fulfill the elder’s wishes and take care of his or her needs, now and in the future. Without a doubt, these family discussions can be difficult.  To engage in them, we have to acknowledge and admit our mom or dad’s situation is changing and that roles in the family have changed or will need to change.  We have to talk about issues we may feel uncomfortable with – what happens when mom can no longer handle her own finances, or dad needs help preparing meals, cleaning and driving.  Who will make medical decisions if mom no longer can?  What if it isn’t safe for dad to live alone any longer? We may have to set aside old family arguments and sibling rivalries in order to figure out what is best for mom or dad.

Consider mediation

Not all families are accustomed to having family conversations. Some don’t know how to start such a conversation.  Others don’t know how to talk without fighting over perceived past injustices or current differences of opinion.

A specially trained elder family mediator can help in many ways. A mediator can help you get the conversation started and bring structure to the conversation to ensure that all family members are able to express their concerns and share their ideas for how to solve the problems.  The mediator can help you identify and evaluate options, with the ultimate goal being for the family to create a unique plan that allows it to move forward having made the best decisions possible under the circumstances.

Cynthia Saffir